cover image Every Riven Thing

Every Riven Thing

Christian Wiman, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, $24 (112p) ISBN 978-0-374-15036-5

Grave and thoughtful, careful in its acoustic effects, and at times breathtaking in its achievement, this third set of verse from Poetry editor Wiman is by far his best. Though his forms vary, his goals and attitudes stay clear: he wants to see the ugly and the difficult without turning away, to describe them tersely and accurately, and to see the handiwork of God. Early poems handle his own chronic, serious illness, and its grueling treatments: "Needle of knowledge, needle of nothingness,/ gringing through my spine to sip at the marrow of me." Much of the rest of the volume reacts to the illness and death of the poet's father: "Not altogether gone," the elderly man looks "half-childlike... before he's seized again with a sharp impersonal turbulence/ like angry laundry." Surrounded by such failures of body and mind, Wiman (Hard Night) doubts that he can say anything fitting, or even pious, about his God, "that to say the name God/ is a great betrayal"—and yet, he tells us, he must try and try: the religious sentiments sit uneasily with the stark scenes of fact, of bodily decay and environmental destruction, but the poet insists on the reality of them all. (Nov.)